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Germany: a historic condemnation for the crimes attributed to the Syrian regime

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A former colonel in the Syrian intelligence services was sentenced Thursday by German justice to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in the first trial in the world linked to abuses attributed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Anwar Raslan, 58, is found guilty of the death of prisoners between 2011 and 2012.

A former colonel in the Syrian intelligence services was sentenced Thursday by German justice to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in the first trial in the world linked to abuses attributed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The High Regional Court in Koblenz (west) found Syrian Anwar Raslan, 58, guilty of the death and torture of prisoners in a secret power detention center in Damascus between 2011 and 2012.

The first hearing that examined the crimes attributed to the regime

This is the second conviction in this trial after that, in February 2021, of a more junior former Syrian intelligence agent. The judges found the guilt of the former high-ranking officer for the murder of 27 people in the detention center of Al-Khatib, also known as branch 251.

Nearly eleven years after the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria, the hearing which is ending was the first to examine the crimes attributed to the Syrian regime and repeatedly documented by Syrian activists and NGOs. In 2016, a UN commission of inquiry accused the Assad regime of “exterminating” detainees. Anwar Raslan, who headed the investigations department of branch 251 of the sprawling Syrian security apparatus, remained silent throughout this river trial which began on April 23, 2020.

No apparent emotion on the face of the former colonel

Thursday morning, he listened to the verdict, translated into Arabic, without apparent emotion, noted an AFP journalist. In May 2020, however, his lawyers read a written statement in which the former officer denied his alleged involvement in the death and torture of detainees. A statement he repeated in early January, via the reading of a new statement by his interpreter, before the Court retired to deliberate.

In a first part of this trial very followed by the large Syrian community in exile, the High Regional Court of Koblenz sentenced in February 2021 Eyad al-Gharib, a former member of these intelligence services, to four and a half years in prison. .

The legal principle of universal jurisdiction for Germany

For these proceedings, Germany applies the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a State to prosecute the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, regardless of their nationality and the place where they were committed. At least a dozen victims attended the verdict. Syrian families had gathered in the early morning in front of the court, holding banners and posters asking “where are they?” in reference to their missing brothers and sisters in Syrian detention centers.

More than 80 witnesses marched to the stand, including 12 deserters and many victims who exposed the abuse endured in unsanitary and crowded cells of this secret detention center: electric shocks, kicks and cable etc. Some witnesses nevertheless refused to appear, others were heard with their faces concealed or wearing a wig for fear of reprisals against their relatives still in Syria.

Testimonies on the discovery of corpses

For the first time, photos of “Caesar” were shown in court. This ex-military photographer had exfiltrated at the risk of his life more than 50,000 photos showing thousands of tortured dead prisoners. Another Syrian also testified about the mass graves in which the corpses of dead detainees were buried.

“I hope we have been able to give a voice to those who are deprived of it” in Syria, told AFP Wassim Mukdad, a civil party to this trial. “I want justice done. (But I don’t want) revenge or retaliation,” he added.

Another trial is due to start next Thursday.

In his indictment, the prosecutor, who had evoked the historical responsibility of Germany, cited a survivor of the Holocaust. The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people and driven 6.6 million people into exile abroad.

Anwar Raslan, in pre-trial detention for three years, never made a secret of his past when he found refuge in Berlin with his family in 2014. His defenders have since continued to argue that he defected in 2012 and tried to spare the prisoners. Another trial linked to the Syrian regime, that of a refugee doctor in Germany, is due to open next Thursday in Frankfurt.

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